LETTERS READ: Welcome!

The ongoing series in which local performers interpret letters and documents about culturally vital individuals from various times and Louisiana communities. Performances are free and open to the general public. During COVID-19, programming is podcast, listen HERE

The 2021 Season:

ADDA
Slide 32 in the 1962 Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans slideshow presentation.

Thanksgiving: Mad Men New Orleans-style!

Premiering HERE November 25 at 6pm and remaining on air thereafter, letters and ephemera created in 1962 by a local professional association for graphic designers, ADDA.

If you liked the TV show, Mad Men, you’ll love the real thing, New Orleans-style. Art Directors and Designers Association of New Orleans (ADDA) was chartered in 1961. Illustrators, lettering artists, art directors, photographers, commercial artists, and graphic designers banded together and promoted themselves to advertising executives throughout the Gulf South.

Central to this was a promotional slideshow presentation. Digitized in 2008. You can view an animation of it HERE.

If you are curious about the then new-fangled entertainment gizmo, slideshows, watch the Mad Men scene about their origin, HERE.

Join our reader Colin B. Miller, himself a practicing graphic designer, as he continues the programming theme 2021, Doing Business in New Orleans.

Intro and outro-music in the podcast, and the promotional slideshow presentation, are from the original reel-to-reel audio tape recording of the jingle composed and performed in 1961 for the slideshow by Paul Guma. Guma’s music plays an interesting part in the 16th podcast in this series. Airing New Years Eve!

This, Thanksgiving Eve event at 6:00 pm CDT, is the 15th full-length podcast. Don’t fret if you cannot listen at that hour, it remains available thereafter.

Scrapbook: Quarantine Tour of Central America and Panama by Health Authorities as guests of the United Fruit Company. The Historic New Orleans Collection, 1996.14.17.

July 15: Bananas Anyone?
LISTEN HERE!

This podcast comprises readings from the 1905 scrapbook produced contemporaneously with the last documented yellow fever outbreak in New Orleans and the United States. Featuring readers William Bowling and Grace Kennedy with audio production by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas Studio.

In photographs and text, this interesting relic presents the idea that bananas imported by the largest importer of them in the world at that time were safe and did not promote the spread of yellow fever.

What was the purpose for this curious piece of ephemera compiled and produced in New Orleans? Documentation of United Fruit’s best practices in sanitation and mosquito abatement? Merely propaganda? For over four years prior, effective protocols for mosquito eradication had already been in place for most American cities. Characteristically, New Orleans lagged behind.

As explained previously in the December 2020 Letters Read Incubator: In 1901, Major Walter Reed, M.D., U.S. Army, and his colleagues confirmed the theory that yellow fever was transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and not by human contact. Further:

Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board … many people in New Orleans still did not take the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from wooden cisterns, a breeding ground for the insects.—American Experience, NPR.

In a stubborn manner usual to New Orleanians, preemptive measures had not yet been adopted by all citizens. As a result, in the city that had been ravaged multiple times by catastrophe and disease, in 1905 cases of the saffron scourge did show up presaging another, and final, yellow fever epidemic.

What part did the United Fruit Company play? Listen to the podcast at 6:00 pm CST and anytime thereafter at this LINK as it airs Thursday, July 15. Listen now to other Letters Read podcasts there, too.

You can follow along and browse through the entire photo album HERE.

A Cotton Office in New Orleans
A Cotton Office in New Orleans by Edgar Degas, painted in New Orleans, Louisiana, 1873. The painting is in the collection of Musee des Beaux-Arts de Pau, Pau, France.

March 25: The Letters of Edgar Degas

A podcast of personal letters from Edgar Degas surrounding his 4-month stay in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.

LISTEN HERE.

Christopher Kamenstein reads as Degas. Audio production is by Steve Chyzyk and Sonic Canvas studio. The event is emceed by stationer and project director Nancy Sharon Collins.

This podcast is hosted by Pitot House and co-promoted by Alliance Française de La Nouvelle-Orléans. Letters Read fiscal sponsor is Antenna.

Join us for an intimate listen to thoughts and emotions experienced by Edgar Degas as he visits his mother’s family in the Crescent City as it strives to heal post-antebellum wounds after the American Civil War. Business, money, family, property ownership, class, race, and privilege, all play important roles in this compelling story.

In late 1872, Degas accompanied his brother René to New Orleans where he observed his paternal family’s business managing the post-Civil War cotton trade. The painting used to illustrate this online event is the oft cited depiction of his time here. It captures a moment during the decline of his uncle Michel Musson’s business, the Cotton Office. Which went bankrupt shortly thereafter.

Upon his return to France early in 1873, Edgar learned that René had also bankrupted their own father’s banking business.

It was about this time and occasioned by the family’s multiple financial misfortunes that Degas turned his trade as a serious painter into a successful livelihood.

LETTERS READ: A Conversation with Two Actors

The 2020 Season:

Letters Read: 12/21/20

December 31, New Years Eve
Listen to the podcast HERE

In an unprecedented shift from an intended, March production, we offer a remote interview with two professional actors, George Saucier and Colin Miller in Lafayette, Louisiana. Formatted within ten questions, this last 2020 offering threads excerpts from a two-hour conversation between George and Colin about being an actor, theatre as an art form, ruminations about Tennessee Williams, the Southern Gothic genre, and the arc of one’s career.

The audio production is by Steve Steve Chyzyk, and Steve Himelfarb, Sonic Canvas Studio in New Orleans. This project was made possible with the help of Acting Up (In Acadiana) and Amy Waguespack, Artistic Director, and founder of Acting Up.

The conversation took place in George’s Lafayette studio. Nancy Sharon Collins recorded in Sonic Canvas Studio. Sonic Canvas’s sound quality differs from that captured in George’s studio, and, you will hear the difference. While discussing early influences, both actors refer to the Children’s Community School. George later refers to this as CCS. “The script” is mentioned several times. This is the 2018 Letters Read script that was to be restaged with Acting Up in March, 2020, before the pandemic changed everything.

LETTERS READ: The Letters of Robert W. Stuart

November 30
Hosted by: Bastion | Community of Resilience
Gentilly, New Orleans.
William Bowling, Reader.
Steve Chyzyk, Audio Producer.
LISTEN HERE

Robert, “Bob” Stuart was born in 1923, just three years after women in this country were allowed to vote. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana. He served in the Navy during WWII, was honorably discharged in May, 1946, and lived a long and productive life as a civil servant in New Orleans. This during a time in the middle of the 20th century when identifying, or being identified as gay—or queer—could  cause a dishonorable discharge from the military, strip you of civilian jobs, deny you housing, and ruin your reputation forever.

This event reflects upon the arc of Stuart’s life, the times through which he lived, and offers a tiny glimpse into correspondence from men who were his close and intimate friends, and one woman.

Letters and documents for this recording are from the Robert W. Stuart Papers, The Historic New Orleans Collection. Gift of Frank Perez, Acc. No. 2018.0225.

LETTERS READ: Skip Ward

Skip WardAugust 20
The Letters of Skip Ward
A podcast hosted by:
Alexandria Museum of Art
Alexandria, Louisiana.
LISTEN HERE

Blanchard, “Skip” Ward was a gay activist in rural Louisiana during the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and into the beginning of the 21st century. His home was in Pineville across the river from Alexandria.

Skip became increasingly involved in LGBTQIA activism in the early 1980s when he first came out. Or, as he would have phrased it, “came up front” about his sexuality. He co-founded the Unitarian/Universalist Church’s Gay Caucus. He also created Louisiana’s first publication tailored to its gay population, called Le Beau Monde. Ward held some form of membership with nearly every Louisiana LGBTQIA organization from the 1970s onward and was particularly active in the Louisiana Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus (LAGPAC), a political activist organization, and the Radical (or Raedical) Faeries, a national organization for rural-based gender and sexual non-conforming spiritualists.

The emcee for this event is Shannon Flaherty, co-artistic director of Goat in the Road Productions (GRP). Frank Perez, president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana reads as the voice of Northern Louisiana conservative clergy. Two other ensemble GRP members are part of this reading. Owen Ever reads as the voice of Skip Ward and Dylan Hunter is the audio engineer on this production. Original music is composed and performed by Dylan as well.

Ward’s letters provide a rare glimpse into rural gay life and the political struggles of the 1980s and 1990s. —excerpted from the caption to “Letter to A Friend Just Coming Up Front”, in the online exhibit, Women and Gender.

LETTERS READ: Stewart Butler

Stewart Butler Letters
April 26
The Letters of Stewart Butler
LISTEN HERE

The 14th Letters Read and first produced remotely and podcast.

Originally scheduled for March 26 at Frenchman Art & Books in New Orleans, this event was preempted by the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. Instead, listen to Dylan Hunter reading as the voice of our subject. Rebecca Hollingsworth is Anne. Both self-recorded in the safety of their own home. Our emcee is Frank Perez, President of LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana. Frank was recorded through a telephone conversation with Dylan. Dylan is also our audio engineer for this event. Music is written and performed by Rob Hudak.

This event provides a rare glimpse into the personal life of an important Louisiana political activist. It begins with the 1967 correspondence from Anne, an intimate friend. The reading weaves in annual Valentine’s letters beginning in 1999 that, as recently as this year, were still mailed to 200 of his dearest friends.

Since the 1970s, Butler has been a significant force in the Louisiana civil rights movement. In 1984, 1986, and 1991 he strategically advocated for changing gay-rights ordinances. Butler was a co-founder of LGPAC (the Louisiana chapter of Lesbian and Gay Political Action Caucus) and has served on boards including the Lesbian and Gay Community Center, PFLAG, and LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.

Thanks go Antenna, our fiscal agent. To David Zalkind, owner, Frenchman Art & Book, and to Dancing Grounds from whom we were borrowing chairs. The live audio engineer was to be Steve Chyzyk, Sonic Canvas Studio. Thanks also go to Bill Hagler, John Magill, Robert Feiseler, and Courtney Sharp for providing background and context. Thank you Letters Read narrative and storytelling advisors Ted Cotton and Cassie Pruyn.

LETTERS READ: 2019 Season Wrap-up

We are delighted to announce that Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities has awarded LETTERS READ a Rebirth Grant for the 2020 programming season. *

Additionally, LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana, Corners Foundation, and The Reba Judith Sandler Foundation have each awarded grants for next year.

LETTERS READ Anniversary & Fundraising Bash was held Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 at Orange Couch in New Orleans. It was a rousing success and we thank everyone who joined us and celebrated! There was a special reading by Christopher Kamenstein and the project director, stationer, Nancy Sharon Collins. Visual accompaniment was by Jeffrey Killion.

If you were unable to attend and would like to make a donation, go to antenna.works/donate/ and make sure to check the box that says, “Write us a comment” and include: “For LETTERS READ 2020 Season”.

Questions? Contact us!

LETTERS READ: Baroness de Pontalba

Wednesday, September 25, 2019 at the Cabildo, Louisiana State Museum.

The Louisiana Museum FoundationLouisiana State Museum, Letters Read, and Antenna, brought an intimate, performative evening celebrating a love for history, architecture, and a unique understanding of our relationship with property. Listen to a recording here.

For one night only, professional actors read and interpreted contemporary and historic communications surrounding the exhibit The Baroness de Pontalba & the Rise of Jackson Square at the Louisiana State Museum’s Cabildo.

This narrative weaves the legacy of Don Andrés Almonester (1728–1798), his formidable daughter, Micaela, the Baroness de Pontalba (1795–1874), and specific members of her descendent family into an exploration of our notions of property and property ownership.

Special guests included readers Christopher KamensteinGrace Kennedy, and Nicole Horne.

“Spanish Cabildo” by artist Jim Blanchard, 1992. From the exhibition The Baroness de Pontalba & The Rise of Jackson Square at the Cabildo, French Quarter, New Orleans. The drawing was lent by Paul St. Martin and photographed by Advocate staff photographer Chris Granger.

LETTERS READ: Lafcadio Hearn, Revisited

Sunday, August 25th, 2019
5:00-6:30 pm
Crescent City Books
124 Baronne Street, New Orleans
Admission is free, open to the public, and seating is limited.

We are excited to re-present a very special selection of letters by Lafcadio Hearn. The evening will be emceed by Christopher Kamenstein and feature readings by Mack C. Guillory III and Grace Kennedy.

Hearn is often credited with popularizing New Orleans in the late 1800’s through articles in Scribner’s, Harper’s Weekly, Cosmopolitan, The Century Magazine, and Harper’s Bazaar, describing the mystique and intrigue of the city to the rest of the world. In 1886, Hearn summered in Grande Isle, Louisiana, to research a new book he was writing. It would be published as Chita: A Memory of Last Island. The novella is based on the last barrier island of L’Ile Dernicre which was completely destroyed in the 1856 hurricane.

During his stay at Krantz’s Hotel, Hearn wrote often to Page Baker. Baker was the editor of the Times-Democrat and steadfast champion of Hearn’s work. During this correspondence, Hearn’s message and tone turned from his typical, flowery, post-Victorian style to dark and accusing. Why?

In this second reading of Hearn’s letters from Grande Isle, we examine possible reasons for his letter’s unusual subject matter and uncharacteristic language. Join us as we explore a writer’s environment and discover possible motives.

Special thanks to Kure Croker, information consultant and to Loyola University New Orleans Special Collections & Archives for providing letters from their Lafcadio Hearn Correspondence Collection

Krant’z Hotel, a popular late-1800s and early 1900s resort on Grand Isle, Louisiana. Image: Greater Grand Isle Historical Society.

LETTERS READ: CODEX II Open Mic Night

Saturday, July 20, 2019
6:00 to 7:30 pm
Crescent City Books
124 Baronne Street, New Orleans, across from the Roosevelt Hotel.
Listen to Thinking Outside the Book and Jessica Peterson talk about her relationship with her favorite books
Watch and listen to Charlie Bishop talk about erasing his doctoral dissertation here.

ABC@PM, Crescent City Books, and Letters Read present a second open mic night for book nerds. CODEX is a conversation about the physicality and context of interacting with and using books. Attendees are encouraged to bring any book they’d like sharing! Loads of conversations about the interaction with and what is a book are a goal. NOTE: In the interest of time, the first 10 nerds who arrive and sign-in to share their book, or books, will be given 10 minutes to do so in this session.
Questions? Contact: lettersread512@gmail.com.

1945 Wonderful Adventures of Paul Bunyan, Heritage Press. Mass produced editions often included a slip case, newsletter, and original illustrations.

LETTERS READ: The Desegregation of New Orleans Public Libraries

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
6:00 to 7:30 pm
Nora Navra Library
1902 St. Bernard Avenue
Admission free and open to the public. This presentation was generously underwritten by Friends of the New Orleans Public Library.
Listen to the performance here.

Mack Guillory III, Emcee. 
Julie Dietz, Reader.

The historic fight for civil rights in New Orleans is more complicated than most movements in the other 50 United States. Prior to Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era, free people of color here could legally own property. Free persons of color could even own slaves.

Another anomaly, albeit post-Jim Crow, is how and when our libraries changed from a separate but equal policy to total desegregation. Without fanfare, our libraries desegregated almost a decade prior to most of the rest of the deep South. An amazing accomplishment for a small, deeply southern town rooted in antebellum sensibilities and unique, international roots.

Join us for the story of desegregation in New Orleans libraries ca. 1954. To read more about desegregation in the Jim Crow era South, go here.